It is July. Training camp will soon be underway, and the NFL season is right around the corner. More importantly, fantasy football is back. Over the next few weeks I will be going position by position to determine safe picks, sleepers, and players to avoid drafting. I do a LOT of research on all of this, combining information from traditional sites like ESPN with magazines in stores and my personal spin on all of it. No, I don’t get paid to do this like the Talented Mr. Roto, but I watch way too much football and like reading enough that if there’s an article out there about fantasy football, I’ve probably at least skimmed it. So, without further ado, let’s start with the signal callers first.
These four quarterbacks could all go in the first round of the draft. The fact that three of the four eclipsed 5000 yards is ridiculous, and a quarterback that can get your team this many points is becoming increasingly important in a league that is transitioning to more running back by committee (RBBC) systems, limiting running backs from having as many breakout games.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
There is plenty to say about these elite players, but as long as you’ve watched any football the last few years you’ll have a good idea about them. Rodgers has averaged over 4200 yards in every year that he has started, with at least 28 touchdowns in each of them. He has a legitimate deep threat in Greg Jennings to throw to, a monstrous tight end in Jermichael Finley, and a defense that gives up just enough points that he can keep scoring the whole game. There’s a reason that the Packers score over 80% of their touchdowns through the air. If you want to build your fantasy team around a first round quarterback, look no further.
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
This won’t take long. Brady has the weapons to get the job done: Wes Welker is as consistent of a receiver as they come, and no team has figured out how to cover both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez yet. Add Brandon Lloyd to the mix as the deep threat and that’s an impressive group. He is known for spreading the ball around and letting his playmakers do the work after the catch. And this group won’t disappoint.
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
There is no doubt that “bounty-gate” will be a distraction for this franchise. But if any QB could retain his value through this, it’s Brees- who set a new NFL record in passing yards and threw 46 touchdowns on top of that. He, like Brady, spreads the ball around to his receivers with relative ease, but I rank him just a step lower because of Sean Payton’s full season suspension.
4. Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions
Stafford threw for over 5000 yards and 40 touchdowns last year, his first full season in the NFL without an injury. Only 2 other quarterbacks have ever done that- Drew Brees (also last year) and Dan Marino (1984). And the best receiver in the game is on his team, a team that attempted the most passes in the NFL last year. There is a reason that 82% of the Lions touchdowns were through the air- Stafford is an incredible talent that finally had a full season to show what he can do. He made it through 2011 unscathed, but the question is can he do it 2 years in a row? The Lions added tackle Riley Reiff in the draft, which is a good start to giving Stafford better protection in the pocket. I still think he can improve his decision making at times, but he is only 24 and has already had one of the best seasons in NFL history, so the sky is the limit for Stafford.
The Next Best Thing
Most of these players has an argument to be in the elite, but they have bigger question marks that come with them. Some of them have potential to be the future of the elite (Newton), while others used to be elite and have injuries to worry about (P. Manning). Regardless of the cause, these guys are a mix of safe, but low ceiling players, and risk/reward picks, but the reward for them could be snagging an elite quarterback with a smaller price tag.
5. Eli Manning, New York Giants
I never thought I’d see the day that Eli would be ranked this high in fantasy football, but he’s proven himself a threat. He almost threw for 5000 yards and 30 touchdowns last year, morphing the Giants offense into a passing attack with the help of receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. His stats would have gotten a lot more talk last year if that yardage total didn’t give him the 4th most in the league, and barring a major regression, he should be a solid fantasy QB this year.
6. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Forget his neck injury, the full season he missed, and the change in uniform. He’s still Peyton freakin’ Manning. And until proven otherwise, this is as low as I will allow myself to rank Peyton Manning while he plays in the NFL. His new receivers are unproven, but if Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas can each have over 500 yards with Tim Tebow as their quarterback, I can only assume they will both approach Jerry Rice’s record for most yards in a season with Manning at the helm. The only reason I rank his brother ahead of him is because there is that chance that Manning gets drilled in the right spot and his neck injury gets the best of him. But I’d take my chances with his golden arm.
7. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
SuperCam took the league by storm last year, and I am convinced that he has the athletic ability and the talent to be a good fantasy QB, but there is the chance that the league has adjusted and will be ready in his sophomore year. It will not be easy to repeat what he did last year, over 4000 yards passing and 35 total touchdowns, but coming close would solidify him as a fantasy difference maker. Carolina is a run first team, the only team in the NFL that scored more touchdowns rushing than they did passing last year, but since Newton scored 14 of those, it doesn’t hurt his value as much. With a top 5 offensive line and weak opponents defenses both passing and rushing this year, I think Newton will be a top 10 QB once again this year.
8. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Fantasy owners have been waiting for this guy to explode for years now. With the offensive weapons he has (Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, etc), a big year seemed like it was bound to happen. And while Romo did have a great year last season with over 4000 yards and 30 touchdowns, the competition has heated up around him and that lands him at only my 8th best QB coming into this season. Of this group, Romo is probably the safest pick to perform, but also has the lowest ceiling.
Where does Vick Fit in?
9. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
Anybody have a guess of which Vick will show up this year? Vick went from fantasy MVP in 2010 to missing games because of injuries and having less than 20 total touchdowns in 2011. So if Vick returns to form and plays a whole season, he is the most dangerous quarterback there is. But that is a big if. And if you’re willing to take that risk, knowing that he could end up with an average at best season rather than the monster year that you’re hoping for, be prepared for a disappointing season if it doesn’t work out. I really can’t endorse picking Vick because even though I know that he could be great, the risk is big enough that I wouldn’t take him with other quarterbacks out there that you have a better idea of what you’re getting from them.
These next quarterbacks are the last remaining guys that I believe you can be at all happy with as your starting quarterback in smaller leagues (10-12 team). They aren’t going to explode and finish in the top 5 in points, but they aren’t going to go the other way and ruin your season for you.
10. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Like Romo, Matty Ice is in an offense built for him to succeed, and fantasy owners are waiting for that to happen. You might say that last year was his first step in the process, setting a career high in yards and over 30 total touchdowns. But that improvement was all he could do to keep pace with the rest of the NFL as it trends to more pass oriented offenses. I think given a little more development he will be near-elite, but missed opportunities and an inconsistent week to week point total disappointed his owners last year. He can have a good year to his standards this year and still finish just inside the top 10 in total points, which is why he is in this tier.
11. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
This is a strange one for me. Every year, when someone takes Big Ben in a fantasy draft, I laugh. The Steelers are a smash mouth football team that is going to beat you with defense and their running game, how good of a fantasy player can their quarterback be? This year, however, they have no choice but to change their style of play. Rashard Mendenhall is probably out for the year, and they can’t exactly rely on Isaac Redman to step in and fill Mendenhall’s role. Plus, the Steelers have plenty of receivers with speed for Roethlisberger to target downfield. All signs point towards Big Ben having a good year, even as a fantasy quarterback. Go figure.
12. Philip Rivers, San Diego (Super) Chargers
Rivers is in the same boat as Ryan and Romo really, but those two have more weapons at their disposal and less turnovers to their names. Rivers lost his favorite receiver, Vincent Jackson, to free agency and the guys that were there last year are just not the same. The Chargers added Robert Meachem in the offseason, which should help, but there is no real #1 threat on the team. The lack of solid receivers makes Rivers’ 4600 yards last year impressive, but the 20 interceptions cannot be overlooked. All in all, Rivers will get you points, but he won’t have many dominant weeks that win a matchup for you.
The Middle of the Road
Those 12 quarterbacks are my recommendations as your starting fantasy QB this year. After that, I think there are more exciting options than Matt Schaub or Jay Cutler as your backup. I know all I will get is a mediocre performance every week. I don’t even feel like doing an entry for each of them, but if you really need a reason to ignore them:
13. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
He has Andre Johnson! But, he only had 2 games with 20 or more points last year. He had 9000 yards and 50 touchdowns combined in 2009 and 2010! But, that was before Arian Foster and Houston’s run heavy offense came into power. He was good just a year ago, but Foster is the new focal point of the Texans offense, and backup Ben Tate deserves his fair share of touches too. The Texans were one of only 4 teams last year that ran the ball over 50% of the time on offense. The fact is, Schaub won’t get enough chances in that offense to make a fantasy impact.
14. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
He had 2300 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. Sure, he missed the last 6 games. But having those 6 games wouldn’t have turned his season around enough to warrant a spot on your team this year. He gets Brandon Marshall back, which will be a huge improvement, but Marshall is far and away his best receiving option. If Marshall has a bad game, Cutler probably will too. Like those odds every week of the year?
Sleepers and Rookies
There is a long list here, so I’m going to be brief about each.
Josh Freeman was a massive disappointment last year, but adding Vincent Jackson and Dallas Clark to his receiving core and finding a way to decrease his turnovers will make him fantasy relevant once again. Factor in the Bucs pass first offense (2nd in percentage of attempts passing) and the 3rd easiest schedule for fantasy quarterbacks, and I think he will bounce back in a big way this year.
Matt Flynn can either become Kevin Kolb and fall into fantasy irrelevance in Seattle, or he can pull an Aaron Rodgers and prove his worth now that he’s getting a chance to play. Seattle’s receiving core isn’t comparable to Green Bay’s, but he could be worth a flier. If he wins the job over Russell Wilson and Tarvaris Jackson, he at least deserves your attention as a potential waiver wire pickup.
Don’t draft him until your last bench slot, but Jake Locker has the potential to be a deep fantasy sleeper this year. He showed he’s got the skills in the few games he played in last year, and throwing to Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, and athletic tight end Jared Cook Jr. give him enough to warrant some attention should he win the job from Matt Hasselbeck. And don’t worry about the Titans offense limiting his production- they were in the top 10 in percentage of passing attempts and touchdowns last year. The days of their run first offense seem to be behind them.
Robert Griffin III will be compared to Cam Newton as soon as he takes his first snap in the league. Someone will take a shot on him early, and there is that slim chance that he follows in Cam’s footsteps and rewards you for your bold move. At the point in the draft where you would have to take RGIII, he is worth the risk as your backup QB.
And then there’s Andrew Luck. Replacing Peyton Manning in Indy will put a lot of pressure on him, and his lackluster receiving core and Swiss cheese offensive line won’t help. I’d steer clear; there are much better options than Luck available.
That’s all for the quarterbacks preview of this season. As you can see, there are a lot of good options available to you here, but making the wrong choice could cost you since it is the highest scoring position in fantasy football. I will give updates as training camp and the preseason go by and some of these players undoubtedly get injured. Keep an eye out for the continuation of this series, as I preview the rest of the positions (excluding kickers, because if you were looking for a kicker preview for the 2012 fantasy football season, you are beyond my help) and I will write a draft strategy article closer to the start of the NFL season.
Also, follow me on Twitter @PF_Flyers14 for more updates as news comes out and the season gets closer.